State Court Criminal Cases

Cases in state court are either felonies or misdemeanors.  Among the felonies,  capital murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment; first degree, five to 99 years in the state penitentiary; second degree, two to 20 years; third degree,  two to 10 years; and state jail felonies, six months to two years. There is an optional fine up to $10,000. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in county jail and a $4,000 fine; Class B, six months and $2,000; Class C, fine only of up to $500. Repeat and habitual offenses, plus certain other offenses, may entail “enhanced” sentencing ranges where the offense is “bumped” to a higher class or degree, or the minimum sentence is increased.

First offenders have the best chance of getting probation if the charge is not too serious.  Persons charged with violent or otherwise serious crimes will have a much harder time getting probation even if they have no previous record.   The D.A. may not offer probation even if the offender is technically “eligible”.   Probation is not common for people who are already on probation or who have had it before.   Judges have the power to order a short jail term as a condition of probation.  There are two kinds of probation: regular, and deferred adjudication. The first is always a conviction.  Deferred adjudication is not a conviction under Texas law for most purposes, although the federal government may treat it as one.  This subject is complex and can be covered in more detail during an office interview.

I have noticed that many lawyers send out advertising implying that they can get your case dismissed.  These claims are misleading.  The most common way to get a case dismissed is to successfully complete deferred adjudication probation.  That can take months or years and  is not what most people think of as “getting my case dismissed.”  But if you are eligible and the D.A. recommends it, it is a good way to resolve many cases.  Deferred adjudication is not available for D.W.I. and certain other offenses.   Most D.W.I.s are resolved with regular probation, which avoids jail time, but results in a permanent criminal record.

It is the policy of the Tarrant County District Attorney not to dismiss a case involving family violence based on an affidavit of non-prosecution, but it can still be useful for plea negotiations. Do not try to arrange such matters yourself.  You may be charged with retaliation, tampering with a witness, or some other crime!

The District Attorney’s office and the courts now operate a number of “diversion” programs which can often provide a pathway for a first offender to eventually expunge the case. This subject is also complex and can be covered in more detail during an office interview.   Motions to suppress are another subject that I cover in the initial interview, when appropriate.

If the dismissal you want depends on someone believing your story you may have to go to trial, because the D.A. does not usually dispose of a case based upon the defendant’s claim of innocence.

There is really not much you can do to evaluate an attorney’s claims about his “winning percentage” except what he tells you.  Because the prosecution wins a high percentage of the cases that go to trial, it makes more sense to conclude that if you beat the plea bargain offer, that was a “win.”  If you do not , that was a “loss”.

No lawyer can guarantee the outcome of a case. If you find one who does, he is unethical.  I suggest you shy away from lawyers who are very young, receive mail at a post office box, have no support staff, and seem overeager to get your business. The length of time the lawyer has been in practice is a good indicator of at least some competence. Otherwise he would not still be in business. If you know other people who have been represented by a lawyer they will probably share their opinion with you. But consider the source.

The foregoing is far from exhaustive but should be sufficient to make it clear that you need to hire someone who knows what he is doing, especially if you want an outcome different from what the District Attorney thinks is right for you. Although choosing a lawyer is not like buying a shirt at Penny’s, it is still true that you tend to get what you pay for.

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